June 22, 2024
Technology

Protecting Your Car from Keyless Vehicle Thefts

LONDON — They appear like apparitions in the night, standing outside your residence, one holding up an antenna while the other crouches next to the vehicle parked on the driveway. In moments, your vehicle is vanished, yet another casualty amid a surge in car theft facilitated by the technology designed to simplify the unlocking and starting of vehicles.

Automotive technology has advanced, and many newer vehicles utilize wireless key fobs and push-button starters instead of conventional metal keys. The fob emits a short-range signal, so when the driver approaches the car, it automatically unlocks the door. This eliminates the need to search for keys when carrying groceries.

However, that technology also creates opportunities for thieves. The wireless fob continues to emit a signal even when not in use. Criminals roam neighborhoods at night seeking vehicles parked outside to execute relay attacks. Using portable equipment that can intercept the faint signal from a fob inside the residence or parking area, they relay it to a transmitter that can replicate the signal.

Authorities have urged car manufacturers to enhance security measures and caution owners about the risks.

So what can you do to lower the chances of your car being stolen in under a minute? “It’s relatively simple for drivers to safeguard themselves,” said Steve Launchbury, principal engineer of automotive security at Thatcham Research, a U.K.-based automotive risk intelligence firm. Here are some suggestions:

Utilize a signal blocker

A straightforward yet effective method to prevent car thieves from intercepting your key fob signal is to use a Faraday bag or pouch. These are lined with a conductive metal mesh that obstructs the transmission of electromagnetic signals.

The pouches are affordable, and there are also boxes available that serve the same purpose. Experts recommend testing them to ensure they are effective. Simply place the key fob inside and approach your vehicle. If the doors do not unlock automatically, it means the signal is being blocked.

Remember to use the blocker every time you leave your vehicle, and ensure all key fobs are inside, including any spares.

However, disregard advice circulating on the internet suggesting you place your fob in the microwave or freezer. This will not have the same effect as a Faraday bag and could damage your key.

Consider a traditional lock

Consider a conventional solution by using a physical lock. These locks, in the form of a disk or a long beam, attach to the steering wheel and make steering difficult. There are also versions that prevent the vehicle from being put into gear. Some law enforcement agencies recommend using them to make your vehicle less appealing to thieves. The rationale is that a potential thief might be deterred by the effort required to cut through the lock and opt for an easier target instead. The drawback is that you will need extra time to install or remove it when not driving.

Adjust your settings

For many vehicles, it is possible to deactivate the wireless setting so that you cannot unlock the door remotely. For Fords, Hondas, and Audis, utilize the touchscreen menus. If you own a Toyota, you can temporarily deactivate the signal by holding down the lock button on the fob and simultaneously pressing the unlock button twice. If done correctly, the fob’s indicator light will blink four times. Note that the next time you press any button, remote unlocking will be reactivated.

The process will vary depending on the make and model, so consult your owner’s manual for the specific instructions. If it seems complicated, there are instructional videos available on YouTube. Keep in mind that in most cases, you will need to manually press the fob’s unlock button.

Automakers have begun incorporating motion sensors into key fobs. If the sensor does not detect recent movement because, for example, it has been left on the kitchen counter after you arrive home, the fob enters sleep mode and stops transmitting. If your key fob does not have this capability, inquire with your dealer if it is possible to upgrade.

If purchasing a used vehicle, some experts also recommend having the keys reprogrammed in case the previous owner retained one of the fobs.

Beware of new techniques

Researchers have unveiled a novel car theft method that does not target radio signals. The controller area network, or CAN, which “permits different components and systems in modern cars to communicate, (has been) recently exploited by thieves,” according to Thatcham’s Launchbury.

The network enables sensors and control modules to communicate directly, bypassing a central node. Thieves exploit this by gaining access to the network from the exterior of the car, typically by removing a headlight and connecting a device that can inject a signal, tricking the car into unlocking and starting.

While automakers are enhancing CAN security, “there are steps drivers can take today to enhance security and deter criminals,” such as using a physical lock, Launchbury stated.

Aftermarket electronic immobilizer systems “should render a criminal’s theft tool useless,” and might even qualify you for a discount on auto insurance, he added. Thatcham and other companies offer these systems, but they can be quite expensive.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are Faraday bags the only way to block key fob signals?
A: Faraday bags are a popular and effective option, but there are also Faraday boxes that serve the same purpose.

Q: Can physical locks prevent all car thefts?
A: Physical locks can act as a deterrent and make it more difficult for thieves to steal a vehicle, but they are not foolproof.

Q: How can I know if my key fob signal is being blocked?
A: Test the signal blocker by placing the key fob inside and attempting to unlock the vehicle. If the doors do not unlock automatically, it indicates that the signal is being blocked.

Conclusion

Protecting your vehicle from modern car theft techniques requires a combination of vigilance and proactive security measures. By utilizing signal blockers, traditional locks, adjusting settings, and staying informed about emerging threats, you can reduce the risk of falling victim to auto theft. Remember to stay informed about the latest security enhancements and consider investing in aftermarket security systems for added protection.

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